Friday, December 07, 2007

Warley blues

The popular tourist destination of Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia attracts people from all over the world. The most famous attraction would probably be the Penguin Parade — though I’ve always considered the Koala Conservation Centre a superior gig. (If one wants to see fairy penguins up close without having to pay to be herded into designated areas, go to Victor Harbour in South Australia.)

But the latest news for the Island is not good, as there seems a real danger that the island’s Warley Hospital in Cowes may have to close down due to accreditation and viability issues. Reports have it that they’re selling equipment in order to pay staff.

It’s always a sad thing when a community faces the loss of such a facility. Think of the closure in the mid-’90s of the Latrobe Valley Hospital in Moe, which was amalgamated into the massive Latrobe Regional Hospital in Traralgon, about a half hour away by road to the east. The only other hospital is at Warragul, roughly the same distance to the west.

The closure of the Moe facility was bitterly fought by many in the community there, who had over the years built a huge stake in their hospital. In a very real way it belonged to that community, who had financially supported it over the years through funding drives, supplementing public funds that never seem to be enough.

We pay our public health administrators to give us the biggest bang for our public health buck. But as Melbourne Health chief Robert Doyle recently observed, it may be the case that “it is now impossible for the health system to deliver all that the community expects of it.”

Where that leaves the Warley Hospital is anybody’s guess at this point. Before the recent federal election, the government local member Greg Hunt promised $2.5 million dollars to save the Warley. Sadly Mr Hunt’s commitment isn’t binding on, and may not be honoured by the new Labor Government. At this time the fate of Warley is being haggled over by federal and state health officials.

As would be expected, there are competing claims about the desirability and practicality of keeping the Warley open. The most immediately compelling among these is the fact that Phillip Island has a growing population of ageing retirees, and a huge turnover of tourists, especially during the summer months.

As vice-president Gwen McRae of the Warley board told ABC radio, if their hospital is closed, the only other nearest hospital is in Wonthaggi “which is 45 minutes away.”

A local resident, whose mother is an in-patient, laments that “if the Warley closed, it would mean an hour-long round trip each day to the nearest hospital at Wonthaggi.”

Er... so that would put the nearest other hospital at 30 minutes away. Come to think of it, I reckon I could easily do the drive from Newhaven to Wonthaggi in 20 minutes without breaking any laws.

Well whatever, but we know that time is of the essence in life-threatening situations, so let’s hope the Warley can survive to serve its community, as well as the wider humanity who visit the Island in droves.

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